Joseph Raya

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Joseph-Marie Raya (born August 15, 1916 in Zahlé, Lebanon; died June 10, 2005 in Barry's Bay, Ontario, Canada) was a prominent Melkite Greek Catholic archbishop, theologian and author. He served as pastor of St George Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the 1950s and 60s. He later served as metropolitan (archbishop) of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee. He was particularly known for his commitment to seeking reconciliation between Christians, Jews and Muslims. He was also a leading advocate of celebrating the Divine Liturgy in vernacular languages.

Life

Early life

Raya was the seventh of eight children born to Almez and Mikhail Raya in Zahlé, Lebanon. After finishing his elementary education at the Oriental College he studied in Paris before enterning St Anne's seminary in Jerusalem in 1937. He was ordained a priest of the Melkite Catholic Church on July 20, 1941. He taught for a while at the Patriarchal College on Queen Nazli Street in Cairo, Egypt. He was expelled from Egypt in 1948 by King Farouk for defending the rights of women. He emigrated to the United States in 1949.

Birmingham

After serving as assistant pastor of St Ann's Melkite Catholic Church in West Paterson, New Jersey, Raya was appointed pastor of St George Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Birmingham in 1952. His championship of civil rights brought him into close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr. Raya marched several times at King's side and suffered three times at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, including one occasion when he was abducted from his rectory by three Klansmen who severely beat him.

Raya faced down not only Klan violence, but also conservatism within the Catholic church. He helped King and other civil rights demonstrators organize protests and marches throughout Alabama during the 1960s, flouting threats of excommunication from Bishop Toolen.

He went on to found the first Eastern Catholic mission for African Americans, located in downtown Birmingham. He was also very close to social justice activist Catherine de Hueck Doherty, and he became the first Associate Priest of her Madonna House Apostolate in Combermere, Ontario, Canada on July 1, 1959. When he became Archbishop of Nazareth he ordained her husband Eddie Doherty to the priesthood.

In 1960. Raya designed and built the new parish church for St George, which won an architectural award.

Raya created a controversy when he invited Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, the famous television Catholic personality, to celebrate the Pontifical Byzantine Divine Liturgy in English in 1958 at the 1958 Melkite National Convention, held in Birmingham. Bishop Sheen celebrated the Liturgy in English on television, inspiring some Catholics to renew calls for widespread use of the vernacular but raising the ire of traditionalists.

Archbishop Toolen of Mobile, Alabama banned Raya from celebrating the Divine Liturgy in English in December 1959. However, Pope John XXIII intervened in March 1960 at the request of Melkite Patriarch Maximos IV Sayegh to decide the question in favor of the Byzantine custom of celebrating the Divine Mysteries in the vernacular. In 1963 Raya's liturgical translation was declared the official English translation for the Catholic Byzantine rites.

Patriarch Maximos IV recognized Raya's successes by elevating him to the dignity of Grand Archimandrite of Jerusalem and appointing him a member of the Melkite patriarchal delegation to the Second Vatican Council. In a stunning change of tradition, the church fathers of Vatican II decided to allow widespread use of vernacular in the Catholic church. After completing his work at Vatican II Raya continued to translate Melkite works into English. In 1968, with Baron Jose de Vinck of Alleluia Press in New Jersey, he authored Byzantine Daily Worship, a compendium in English of the Divine Liturgy, Office of the Hours, and the sacraments.

In a later letter reflecting on his preisthood, Raya wrote: "The people of the parish were hungry for a priest to serve them. We lived together as brothers and sisters. They were my family. I was their father and their priest. I knew them all, one by one. I called them by their names, the old and the young and every single baby. My beautiful family of Birmingham! Saint George’s Parish in Birmingham, you were my paradise."

Episcopate

Following his appointment as archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee on October 20, 1968, Archbishop Joseph led a peaceful demonstration of thousands of Arabs and Jews in Israel seeking justice for the villages of Kafr Bir'im and Iqrit in Upper Galilee that had been depopulated in 1948, and then destroyed. Iqrit was the home town of his second successor, Archbishop Elias Chaccour. He sought justice through non-violent means and called upon Palestinians to be good citizens of Israel.

Describing Raya's actions, Father John Catoir wrote in 1969:

They [Christian Arabs] are in no mood for brotherhood talks, but [Raya] commands them to stop hating the Jews, to purge their hearts of hatred and contention which breeds only misery and further suffering.
At the closing session of the Israeli parliament he thundered to the Jewish representatives, alternating between French, Arabic, and English for all to understand, that they have done to the Arabs some of the very same things they themselves lament so bitterly in their own history of persecution.
It is quite a thing to see a living prophet in action, challenging the inflamed passions of ancient enemies. (Sabada, pp. 84-85, excerpted from Catoir, John A Prophet in Action, 1969)

In August, 1972 he ordered all churches in his eparchy closed one Sunday to mourn for "the death of justice in Israel" as the two villages remained dispossessed. Explaining his position, Raya said:

No end justifies injustice -- even if that end seems to be the good of the state or of a nation. If you base security on denial of justice, no amount of money can guarantee that security. Not even an army as strong as all of the legions of Rome will be able to insure it. (Nester, p. 87)

Resignation

As archbishop, Raya was a controversial figure. While many admired his charismatic style and ecumenical leadership, some Arabs and members of the church hierarchy resented his overtures to Israel. Raya was opposed to the Melkite Holy Synod's proposal to internationalize Jerusalem. He also upset the Vatican with his aggressive campaign for the return of the Bir'im and Ikrit refugees and the sale of church land to impoverished Muslim farmers. Raya's letter of resignation declared that the Church hierarchy forced his decision to leave his post. The government of Israel considered him dangerous, but when he resigned Prime Minister Golda Meir begged him to reconsider.

Raya's resignation came as a shock to many. The local Christian Youth Club collected several thousand signatures asking him to reconsider, and prominent Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders in Israel and abroad voiced dissapointment. Yoram Kaniuk described their thoughts on the archbishop: "the great majority of people viewed him with suspicion. Because he failed to conform to generally accepted notions...Unusual people, deeply religious men, men of morals we won't understand. Bishop Raya was out of step. He bore Israel no animosity. He cared for and looked after his spiritual flock." Departing his post, Raya used his final pastoral leter to underscore his ecumentical approach:

I came to the Holy Land to give. And behold! I was overwhelmed by what I received! I came to enrich and purify! And behold! I was the one to be enriched and purified. I loved the family of the Lord. His family are both the Jews and the Arabs. I held the Muslims, the Druze, the Jew, the Christian, everyone believer and unbeliever, in the same embrace. (Raya - 1974)

Retirement

After resigning his archbishopric on July 13, 1974, Raya moved to Madonna House in Combermere. At some time between his resignation and 1975 he suffered a massive heart attack and had a quadruple bypass operation in Lexington, Kentucky. From his home in Combermere he lectured and wrote on Byzantine spirituality at various places, among them the John XXIII Ecumenical Center in the Bronx and the Patriarchal Major Seminary at Raboue in Antelias, Lebanon. He returned to Lebanon in 1985 to assist the Diocese of Beirut with Archbishop Habib Bacha. In 1987 he assumed interim leadership of the Archdiocese of Paneas in Marjayoun, Lebanon which had been destroyed by the 1974- 1991 Lebanese civil war. He moved back to Canada after the completion of this assignment and retired at Madonna House in 1990.

He died in 2005 in the hospital at Barry's Bay, Ontario. He was nominated that year for the Nobel Peace Prize (which went to Mohamed El Baradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency).

Publications

  • Raya, Joseph. Abundance of Love: The Incarnation and the Byzantine Tradition. Educational Services. ISBN 1-56125-015-5.
  • Raya, Joseph. Byzantine Church and Culture. Alleluia Press. ISBN 0-911726-55-1.
  • Raya, Joseph and Baron José de Vinck. Byzantine Daily Worship. Alleluia Press. ISBN 0-911726-07-1.
  • Raya, Joseph. Christmas: Birth of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ and His Private Life. Madonna House Publications. ISBN 0-921440-45-6.
  • Raya, Joseph and Baron José de Vinck. The Divine and Holy Liturgy of our Father among the Saints, John Chrysostom. Alleluia Press. ISBN 0-911726-64-0.
  • Raya, Joseph Face of God: An Introduction to Eastern Spirituality. God With Us Publications.
  • Raya, Joseph Metalipsi: Service of Holy Communion without Divine Liturgy. Madonna House Publications.
  • Raya, Joseph. Theophany and Sacraments of Initiation. Madonna House Publications. ISBN 0-921440-36-7.
  • Raya, Joseph. Theotokos: Mary, Mother of Our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ. Madonna House Publications. ISBN 0-921440-40-5.
  • Raya, Joseph. Transfiguration of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Madonna House Publications. ISBN 0-921440-29-4.

References

  • "Joseph Raya." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 18 May 2007, 19:27 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 21 May 2007 [1].
  • Sabada, Lesna (2006) Go To The Deep: The Life of Archbishop Joseph Raya. Newton, Massachusetts: Sophia Press.
  • "Archbishop Joseph M. Raya" (2005) memorial biography by the Friends of Madonna House - accessed May 21, 2007
  • "Archbishop Toolen Criticizes Presence of Priests, Sisters in Demonstrations". (March 19, 1965) Catholic Week.
  • Nester, Marie Yaroshak. (2004) We Are God's People. God With Us Publications
  • "Archbishop Resigns" (September 30, 1974) The Jerusalem Post.
  • "Archbishop Raya on reported rift with Vatican 'No one can make me resign'" (March 1973) The Jerusalem Post.
  • "Two Bishops in Israel - One was a Friend!" (November 8, 1974) Heritage Newspaper, Southwest Jewish Press.
  • Raya, Joseph. (September 1974) Pastoral Letter.
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